Helping Someone with a Process Addiction

By Ashley Barnes, M.S.

What is a process addiction?

When thinking of the word “addiction,” one may picture alcohol, illegal drugs like cocaine, or addictive prescription drugs  – all substances of abuse. However, addictions come in many forms and are not limited to substances. Addiction can look like repeated behaviors that have harmful effects on a person’s life.

Behavioral addiction, also called process addiction, refers to “the compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community” (American Addiction Centers, 2022). 

Common for all who struggle with addiction, those who have process addictions may find the behavior they engage in psychologically rewarding, perhaps even feeling elated or “high” while engaging, only to later feel remorse, guilt, and experience consequences for said behavior. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for human pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, is released when engaging in these behaviors; dopamine is rewarding and neurobiologically encourages us to repeat certain behaviors. Thus, dopamine can play a key role in triggering the the neurobiological changes linked to addiction. This neural reward cycle is much alike what people with substance addiction experience.

What does process addiction look like?

Common process addictions include but aren’t limited to sex and love addictions, exercise addiction, food addiction, gambling addiction, shopping addictions, and gaming addictions

Though behaviors previously listed can be wonderfully healthy in certain doses, those with process addictions repeat the behavior in a way that becomes addictive and can be harmful to various realms of a person’s life. Process addictions can negatively impact health, finances, interpersonal relationships, and mental wellbeing. 

For example, shopping or gambling addictions often lead people to spend their life’s savings and develop massive credit card debt. A sex addiction could painfully dissolve a relationship due to infidelity, lead to sexual disfunction, and may interfere with daily tasks of living. Exercise addiction can lead to physical problems as a person overworks and strains their body. 

A food addiction can develop into an eating disorder, also potentially leading to serious health problems like obesity. Gaming addictions may prevent someone from keeping a healthy sleep schedule, causing sleep deprivation. All of these process addictions can severely and negatively impact people’s relationships with others and with themselves. Many people fear that they may have an addiction if they enjoy some of these activities, but if it is negatively interfering with daily tasks of living, relationships, finances, work, and other important areas of your life, you may be struggling with a process addiction.

How to help.

The first step in seeking help is recognizing that you need help. Addiction psychiatrists can evaluate for process addictions, develop and tailor treatment plans to patients’ needs, and provide referral sources with good clinical benefit. Addiction psychiatrists can provide psychoeducation on the addiction process so patients can better understand the neural underpinnings of what they are experiencing.

Psychotherapists can help patients process and work through the emotional, mental, and relational ramifications of process addictions. Through therapy, those living with a process addiction can develop insight on their behaviors and pair it with meaningful action to reduce the harmful impact of the process addiction.

The Mental Health Center provides sensitive and affirming care to patients who are ready to make a change. 

Online Resources

  • In the Rooms – provides a multitude of online support groups for various process addictions and substance addictions that are hosted several times per day. 
  • S-AnonThe S-Anon International Family Groups are a worldwide fellowship of the relatives and friends of sexually addicted people.”
  • National Council on Problem Gambling – provides resources including a problem gambling helpline.



American Addiction Centers. (2022). What is process addiction & types of addictive behaviors? Retrieved July 7, 2022, from